In April of 2024, Rachel Carter & The Legacy Makers are due to raise a statue titled Standing in This Place in the rejuvenated Broadmarsh. It depicts two women hand in hand - a white female garment worker and an enslaved African woman. The project is still seeking fundraising so that it can stand life-size and do justice to its inspiration...
“My ancestors were Rufus and Eliza Crooks,” says artist Rachel Carter, speaking about her inspiration and research for the project. “They lived in an area called Horsley Woodhouse and followed a long line of blacksmith nailers, so Rufus, my three times great Grandfather, was a blacksmith nailer. They, like many other families, must have answered a call.” She then shows me a newspaper cutting from the time, recruiting women to work in the cotton mills in exchange for a house and every necessary convenience (particularly, a cow).
“And so I find them moving the whole family to Darley Abbey. They reside in one of the little mill workers' cottages and four of the children all go to work in the Darley Abbey Cotton Mill, while the father Rufus gets work in the paper mill next door,” explains Rachel. “I think what I'm seeing by looking at the data is that as more children come of age, they too are going into the cotton mill and working in the cotton industry. By looking at their whole lives, they're moving constantly from different cotton mills and different jobs and putting themselves in danger. I found that my great, great grandmother was born into this mill working family.”
Data from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries shows that many female garment workers resided in the greater Broadmarsh area, hence the project’s name; we trace our ancestor’s footsteps, as they stood, in this place.
“When we started, we were all volunteer researchers on a project that was looking at the migration of workers going into the cotton mills, and how that burgeoning cotton industry was built on the side of the world where lots of people of African descent were forcibly taken from their homeland and forced to work in the cotton fields.”
Rachel wasn't aware of that element of her ancestor story, and was focused purely on the working conditions her own ancestors found themselves in. “Some of them died of cotton lung,” she tells me solemnly, “which was a common killer of mill workers, but there was always another sibling there to take their place. I really wanted to understand their lives, what they were going through. But then equally you've got members of The Legacy Makers with their African ancestors being enslaved, and for them they had the same want to understand what their ancestors' lives were like. What they were going through. Why were they taken there?”
The Legacy Makers are a volunteer group est. 2014 by Bright Ideas Nottingham, exploring what was happening in Darley Abbey in the early 1800s, and how their enslaved African ancestors are connected to the wealth of Darley Abbey through the cotton trade. For Legacy Maker Louise Garvey the project ties into her own ancestry by looking at the history and culture of enslaved African people, British factory workers and the cotton industry in Britain, while also focusing on the struggles of women. “As a descendant of enslaved ancestors myself, I’m reminded of my grandmother and the stories she told about her heritage, her spiritual and ancestral way of being and the positive cultural influence that she instilled in me.”
“We've both gone on this journey,” Rachel continues, “So it was important that that is also represented in the sculpture because it would be easy for me to just represent my ancestor in a sculpture, but I don't think that's telling the whole story, they have to be there together, and together our common ancestors provided wealth to the city. They may not have lived here but they have contributed nonetheless.”
A significant goal of the Standing in This Place project is to ‘challenge the 5%’; referencing Caroline Criado-Perez’s 2016 study that found that, out of the 826 statues across the UK, only 25 were of non-royal women (and 43 were of men called John).
“I think actually showing that these women have contributed is really important. I've spoken about it to different people throughout the project, and they wanted to know why women aren’t represented very fairly in Nottingham, where do we see women on pedestals? We've got ‘Cloughy’ standing there proudly just off the Market Square, but where are the women? We seem to remember Adams, the architect of those fantastic lacemaking buildings. We know that Arkwright started his first factory in Nottingham, which still stands, and they employed a vast amount of women that came and worked. But not only that, they were reliant on that free labour in the cotton fields.”
This is why they’re truly passionate about fundraising for a life-size statue to honour the contributions of so many women throughout Nottingham’s rich history, and to place them where they belong - as equals to their male counterparts.
“I think what we've got back from people is that, in their donations, they've also had the same thoughts as us - that if we have these women shown anything less than life-size, it diminishes what we're trying to say about them and it diminishes their contribution, so we want them at the size that they are.”
“When we opened our fundraising at the gallery twelve months ago this elderly lady came in and she took it all in, looked at all the exhibits and asked lots of questions, and then she went away and came back later on,” Rachel continues. “She came up to me and said ‘I'd like to donate to the project, but I'm 94, I don't have very much. This is what I can give’. So she gave me 85 pence and said, ‘I know it's not a lot.’ But then she told me, ‘My mum was the very first female shop manager in Nottingham and, although I haven't got much to give, I'm giving this in the name of my mum who did something incredible.’ And it's hearing stories like that - on the other end of the scale, you've got philanthropists such as Harry Djanogly donating £20,000 - and the reasoning behind whatever size is just quite heartfelt from everybody that donates, whether it's 85p or £20,000.”
The project’s goal, to represent the underrepresented and to show how their stories are connected by cotton, sorrow, strength and resilience, is something that has touched a lot of people, and they’ve managed to nearly reach their funding goal from the generosity of the general public, philanthropists, local businesses that have listened to the story.
“I think throughout all of it, we've gathered this mass of predominantly women that want to get involved - through phase one we had over 200 women, we’ve easily matched that in phase two where we're bringing them together. The live models the sculpture is based on, they sort of feel that weight of responsibility to the ancestors like I do, and all the Legacy Makers. We are so emotionally connected to this story because it affects who we are and why we're here, and having that deep connection is just something amazing. Throughout all of my sculptures that I've created, this one is so rooted in me and the quality group I'm working with.”
Rachel Carter & The Legacy Makers are now just £20,000 away from their first funding goal. To donate and help Rachel Carter & The Legacy Makers reach their goal, or to find out more, please visit their website
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